Rick Telberg
Rick Telberg

Market Crash Means Tax Season Opportunity

A crisis is terrible thing to waste. How’s YOUR busy season so far? Join the survey, compare results with your peers.

February 17, 2009
by Rick Telberg/At Large

Lay-offs. Cost-cutting. The stock market crash. Global credit freeze. Ruined retirements. And then there’s tax season.

There’s no better time to be working with clients to sort out their worries and plan new strategies. If you’re just working to get through the busy period, or just hunkering down for the recession, you’ll be behind the curve when conditions change for the better. Savvy CPAs are looking beyond tax season to create a new future for themselves in the new post-meltdown economy.

“Right now, more than ever, clients need to know that you are there for them,” says Sheryl Garrett, founder of The Garrett Planning Network Inc., which works with CPA firms to offer advanced financial planning services. Garrett, a CFP, was a featured speaker at the AICPA financial planning conference last month.


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CPAs hold a special place in clients’ hearts, as well as a unique positioning in the marketplace. “They can trust you,” says Garrett. “They need to feel comfortable confiding in you.”

But you need to be available to them, even if it is your busy season. Clients, she says, “must be able to get a hold of you. You are there to help guide them through this tumultuous time.”

She advises CPAs to use their CPA skills and their reputations as CPAs to their client’s advantage. “Clients think of you as a very analytical person,” she says. “Accounting is very black and white. There is right and wrong. There are deadlines. In this economic environment, as well as in an individual’s personal financial life, most things are not so clear.”

But clients also need your human side too. So don’t be afraid to get personal. In fact, that’s exactly what many clients want and need right now “Clients need to feel your compassionate, empathic side,” she says. “Communicate with your clients frequently, even if it’s to say, ‘we’ve never seen anything like this, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the short-term; however we do know that basic financial planning principals have never been more important. I’m here if you want to talk about your situation or answer any questions that you may have.’”

Garrett, who works with clients on an hourly, as-needed, fee-only basis has developed an international network of likeminded financial advisors, the Garrett Planning Network. She has worked with the House Subcommittee on Financial Services regarding predatory lending regulation, financial literacy and Social Security reform. She also works as a consultant and expert witness in lawsuits against financial advisors who rendered questionable financial advice.

Looking beyond the recession (if anyone can see that far), Garrett says the opportunity for CPAs in personal financial planning is “unlimited.” “Everyone has questions about their money life at some time or another and the CPA has long been the most trusted professional financial advisor.”

But, she insists, it needs to be done right. “If CPAs follow the course of traditional financial services providers, then they will lose the role of most trusted advisor.” She urges CPAs to provide only fee-only planning, not commissionable sales nor a fee for assets under management, thus preserving the CPA’s role as a fiduciary charging for only services or advice.

For CPAs, moving into personal financial planning services becomes a seamless extension of your practice. “Don’t reinvent the way you do business,” she says, “just broaden the scope of the subject matter over which you provide advice and charge on an hourly or project fee basis.”

Garrett makes it sound easy. It isn’t, of course. And busy season is tough enough already. But what are you doing to plan for the recovery?

SOUND-OFF: How’s busy season so far? Join the survey, compare results with your peers.

COMMENTS: Questions, ideas, rants or raves? Send an e-mail to Rick Telberg.

Copyright © 2009 CPA Trendlines/BSG LLC. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission. First published by the AICPA.

About Rick Telberg

Rick Telberg is editor at large/director of online content.

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Disclaimer: Any views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the AICPA or CPA2Biz. Official AICPA positions are determined through certain specific committee procedures, due process and deliberation.